In my book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worst, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, I looked at the social and historical influences of the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1981. The event was a cultural phenomenon. For the first time in history, nearly a billion people came together at the same moment to witness the same marvel, televised in ‘living color’ — shaking up our global psyche. We gathered around our clunky television sets as if anticipating some long-ago promise fulfilled.
With its reassuring sense of order and thrilling dose of pageantry — courtly rituals and symbolic pomp, ceremonial uniforms and polished splendor — this royal wedding was like a soothing balm for a society reeling from the rebellious upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s. The wedding came at the beginning of a decade that saw Reaganomics, Thatcherism, pseudo-Christian politics, and a “greed is good” mentality attempt to put a lid on those earlier outspoken youthful voices, female voices, Black voices railing against a tone-deaf, out-of-touch, vengeful society. These latest patriarchal forces may have quieted those voices of dissent, but the revolutionary spirit remained, laying groundwork for the next uprising of heart energy.
Weddings, especially royal ones, can indeed be profound bringers of change. Although Charles’ and Diana’s wedding played its part in gilding the last two decades of the twentieth century with a superficial gloss, it had a more enduring role, something of the heart — evident even before the glittering wedding dust had settled. The regal ceremony stirred the wonder of some deeply feminine ethos around the world with its fairy-tale longings and a beautiful, lit-from-within bride…a heart-centered young woman (a future revolutionary) becoming a real princess of a legendary kingdom at a time when a new wave of feminism was rising — which seemed to punctuate its own irony with a mythological purpose. (Was an ancient archetype for a new age rising as well?)
These were clearly shifting times, something momentous was brewing in human consciousness, a new millennium lying in wait, and yes, there was plenty of paradox at play here. Sometimes revolutionary change best takes hold when it comes in rationed doses, giving us some breathing room, time for our awareness to catch up with us, time to get our new bearings even as the ground is shifting beneath our feet. But this revolutionary spirit had a woman’s voice and that newly released heart energy continued to do its magic.
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Diana’s wedding was certainly the catalyst of a direction-changing occurrence in my life. Between the two Windsor weddings that decade (sensing this cultural sea change as well as my own spiritual mission), I designed a bridal art-to-wear store for the emerging “modern woman” — a woman more educated, financially independent, and openly sexual than her mother’s generation, yet who was enamored with all the bridal trappings and wedding pageantry of another time and place. (And, as a result, the shop’s designers were called on to create replicas of ‘princess gowns’ for years to come — puffs of creamy silk, lace-trimmed and hand-beaded.) Weddings became society’s new entertainment darlings and women were basking in this glowing, long-yearned-for attention!
In an essay written in a feminist anthology during this time, author Naomi Wolf called this new realm of weddings Brideland: “existing primarily in the bridal magazines, which conjure up a fantastic, anachronistic world that really exists nowhere beyond itself” — a Victorian-era-inspired wedding world brought back to life by the royal nuptials in 1981. Wolf explained how she, after her own engagement, got hooked while reading just one bridal magazine and soon wondered where her “conscious, feminist, and more skeptical mind” had gone as she began making a list of ‘must-have’ wedding accoutrements! In Brideland, as Wolf described, the wedding ceremony “becomes downright feudal: the bride is treated like a queen with her court of ‘maids’…a child to lift her train, a child to bear her ring, and a sparkling tiara upon her head.” And there’s more irony: “Brideland has an awful lot to say about what women want that they are not getting, and it taught me a thing or two about myself,” the author shared. In addition, as I discovered with the thousands of women who came into my store in the 1980s and ’90s, “brideland has very little to do with the relationship or even the marriage,” added Wolf; “it is a world of lush, feminine fantasy.” Women’s studies professor Colleen Denney described it this way: “Feminism and femininity collided in 1981 when Diana married.”
So, with this dichotomy at play, I shared stories of wedding folklore and sacred ritual with these “grown-up brides,” connecting them to a forgotten lineage — and perhaps even reconnecting them to the heart of their relationship. (I separated the folklore which had origins linked to “naked patriarchalism,” in the words of Naomi Wolf, from the ones that honored women as goddesses — and often, like any good storyteller, I simply embellished the tale to tap into that goddess spirit!) The stories, as well as the tender attentiveness received during their gown fittings, appeared to touch an intimate memory in each woman (no matter if a first-time bride or if marrying again), lighting something deep within and, almost without fail, I’d hear a little humming sigh which seemed to set her rite of passage into motion. Then together, along with an atelier full of talented women designers, we navigated the changing sensibilities of being feminine, womanly, confident, and autonomous.
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(An epilogue for this story: I closed my store at the end of 1999 so I could land, fully available for new adventures, in a new millennium — one promising to continue that heart-energy revolution. I soon began a series of rather mystical journeys to far-flung places around the world, continuing my spiritual mission of sorts, and with every encounter, I was met with the steady assuredness of feminine wisdom rising.) ~
[Excerpt from book-in-progress, The Spiritual Mission of a Princess.]